The Gazette - June 29, 2002

A shot in the arm for Socrates

Local Greek private school will receive $100,000 U.S.
from Archbishop Spyridon foundation


In his unhappy three-year career as spiritual leader of about 1.5 million Greek Orthodox in the United States, Archbishop Spyridon had little to do with Montreal or Canada.

But a Montreal journalist, Justine Frangouli-Argyris, and the Socrates School, a private elementary school With 1,260 pupils at four campuses in the greater Montreal area, could be important in efforts to restore his battered reputation and carry forward some of his vision.

Journalist and author Justine Frangouli-Argyris with Grade 3 students at Socrates School. Her biography of Archbishop Spyridon brought him to Montreal in April, and the Outremont school inspired his foundation

Frangouli, a native of the Greek island of Lefkada and a journalist since 1983, married Montreal businessman Theodore Argyris and moved to Montreal in 1989. She has been a correspondent for the Athens News Agency and other Greek media outlets since then. As well as covering Canada, she covers Greek-ethnic and religious stories throughout North America (while the New York bureau concentrates on political stories).

She covered the misadventures of Spyridon - born George Papageorge in Warren, Ohio, in 1944 - as archbishop in America between 1996 and 1999.

Convinced that damage to his reputation was undeserved, she persuaded Spyridon - who has retained the honorific title of archbishop but lives quietly in Portugal - to co-operate with her effort to set the record straight.

Her "authorized biography," titled The Lonely Path of Integrity in its English version, was published in Greek last year and in English this year, by Exandas Publishers S.A. of Athens.

The English version was launched in April in Montreal, at city hall and at the Hellenic Community Centre.

While in Montreal for the launch, Spyridon visited the Socrates School, which became the inspiration for the Archbishop Spyridon Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture.

Although Montreal is not part of Spyridon's former archdiocese, the Socrates School is to receive $100,000 U.S. as the foundation's first donation. The money is intended to fund bursaries for pupils from lower-income families.

The foundation was created at the initiative of John Catsimatidis, a businessman who had been the chairman of the U.S. archdiocesan council and a key ally during Spyridon's reign. Catsimatidis said the Socrates School is "a shining example of Hellenic education outside Greece."

An attempt to upgrade Greek-language education in the United States was one of the great defeats of Spyridon's short reign.

Only a few days before stepping down, Frangouli reports, Spyridon appointed an implementation committee to take action on recommendations by a commission he had set up to look into the issue of Greek education.

But the administration of Spyridon's successor, Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, failed to follow up, according to Frangouli's book.

The chairman of the commission, Professor John Rassias of Dartmouth College, spoke at the book launch in Montreal.


Spyridon's approach
to promoting Greek,
as described in the book,
is forward-looking

While Frangouli's book makes it clear that Spyridon's approach to some theological and liturgical issues is conservative, his pedagogical approach to promoting Greek, as described in the book, is forward-looking.

Staff of the Socrates School had little difficulty convincing me, on a recent visit to the Outremont campus, that their approach is similarly forward-looking.

Teaching is about 63 per cent in French, 27 per cent in Greek and 10 per cent in English, I was told. The principal, Nicole Saint-Germain, is a francophone.

Religion is taught in Greek, from an Orthodox perspective, but I was told the approach is low-key.

Frangouli's book deals with complex U.S. controversies I cannot possibly get into here, but in it and in conversation she suggested that Spyridon was attacked from almost all imaginable directions.

As I understand her, Spyridon turned out to be too strong a leader for Bartholomew, the world patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy, and for his patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul), who were already nervous about moves toward making U.S. Orthodoxy more autonomous.

However, Spyridon actually was loyal to the patriarchate - even to this day - so he also ran afoul of those who actually do favour an "autocephalous" U.S. church.

There were some legitimate issues -regarding trends in theological education and liturgy, for example- but disputes were made worse than they needed to be by scandal-mongering and power struggles.

Frangouli, a daughter and granddaughter of priests, said that until she wrote the book she tended to idealize the spirituality of the church and its hierarchy.

So the experience of writing it was in part a painful process of disillusionment.

* Harvey Shepherd's e-mail address is:

[ The Gazette - June 29, 2002 - p. i6 ]